This year’s October fiction project is a short middle-grade horror novel. The working title is “Turning Leaves,” but that will probably change.
Here are the rules (which I am making up as I go along!):
- Write every day.
- Write about a thousand words every day.
- Write words the same day the characters would be writing them, for the most part (that is, Oct 1 words in the story = Oct 1 words in real life).
- Don’t plan ahead.
- Don’t quit.
I don’t have an outline or even a plan.
It’s been a while since I wrote middle-grade fiction. This should be fun.
2018 – Tales of the Normal – Twilight Zone-style surreal stories.
2019 – Crime du Jour – Short crime stories.
2023 – Turning Leaves – Middle-grade horror.
Turning Leaves (Working Title): October 25 - Lola's Choice
October 25 – Lola’s Journal – First Entry
Note: This page has been folded over.
These journals aren’t really for Mr. Henderson, are they? They’re for you, Miss Emma, so you can spy on the thoughts of the people you haven’t taken over and replaced yet.
I’m not going to show this journal to Jayla. I have an idea about what’s going on and I don’t like it at all and I don’t want her to find out about what I think is really happening.
I am going to fold this page over, not because I think it will keep Mr. Henderson or YOU from reading it, but because I don’t want Jayla to read it.
But, just in case, I’m not going to say what I think is happening.
Miss Emma, if you’re reading this, call me over to the library and tell me the truth about what’s going on.
I don’t care what happens to me, as long as the rest of my family is safe.
I’m not sure whether I’m the real Lola or not. I don’t feel like I am, but Jayla thinks I am, because I’m not cold the way that the other manifestations are cold. I don’t know where my real family is. I don’t even know whether I really have a sister Sally or not.
I don’t think she is real. Trying to remember her is hard. I can remember my mom and my dad, but it’s harder to remember specific things about her.
Was it always like this?
When did you take over, Miss Emma?
Why couldn’t you just leave us alone?
It doesn’t matter. As long as everyone else is safe, it doesn’t matter what happens to me.
October 25 – Lola’s Journal – Second Entry
I’m sitting at the breakfast nook table at Jayla’s house and writing in my journal and trying not to cry on the pages.
Where is Jayla?
I don’t KNOW.
Miss Emma had me called to the office after English class. Jayla looked terrified. I gave her a hug and said “it will be OK.” We both knew I was lying. She started crying, then pulled her black t-shirt up over her face so nobody could see.
Miss Emma was waiting for me at the office. She looked at me over her glasses with about half her blonde hair sticking out of her hair clip. She was wearing a different shirt, this one looking like it was covered with ink splots but in a fashion-designer way. That was how I knew she knew about the trick with the marker, before.
She said, “Hello, Lola! I have a favor to ask of you. Would you come with me to the library?”
“Is that the favor?” I said.
It felt like I was talking to one of the fairy-folk in a story.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY,
YOU MIGHT END UP TRAPPED BY THE FAE!
Miss Emma laughed, smiled back at the secretary, and put a hand on my shoulder.
She was warm today.
We walked down the hall, past the room where Jayla was having math class with Mr. Warshaw. I saw her looking out of the doorway at us. She looked like she was ready to cry again.
Miss Emma and I turned around a corner.
Then she said, quietly, “Are you sure you want to know the truth?”
We walked some more, until we were at the big glass doors to the library. It looked empty inside. There was a sign that said, “Library closed until 12:00. Come back soon!” on the door.
Miss Emma took out a key from her pocket, only her skirt was flat and didn’t have pockets. She just reached into where her leg was and brought out a key.
She winked at me.
“I’m goint to open this door, Lola, and let you decide whether you want to go in or not. If you go inside, then you will know the truth—but the truth will change you. If you stay outside, then I can erase your memories and you’ll never know we had this conversation. But you will stay the person who you are right now.”
“Will it help?” I asked. “If I go inside, will it help?”
Miss Emma smiled, not her usual fake smile, but a twitchy one that looked unsure. “I don’t know. It’s a choice. Are you willing to take the risk that you find out the truth and it changes you, and you still don’t know what to do? Are you willing to try everything you possibly can, and still fail?”
I started crying hard.
Miss Emma put her hand inside her leg again and gave me a handkerchief. It was pink and had a pattern of black and white unicorns running around the border.
I hid my face in it and cried for a minute. Then I blew my nose in it.
“Mine now,” I said.
Miss Emma wrinkled up her nose. “Yes…either way. I don’t want that back, thank you very much.”
She unlocked the door with the key. It sounded just like she was unlocking a real door with a real key.
She opened the door and went inside. The door closed behind her. She didn’t hold it open for me or anything. The latch clicked as the door shut.
I took a deep breath, squeezed the handle, and pulled hard on the door. It didn’t want to open, it was heavy and sticky. I pulled harder, until there was enough of a crack for me to get through.
Then I went inside.
What was inside, wasn’t the library. It was a different place.
It was pitch black, but twinkling with pink stars overhead that flashed in time with teeny tiny chiming music. Something huge and black was moving around in the darkness. I could tell because it made the pink stars wink out.
It brushed past me, pushing me backward.
I pushed forward against it. It was soft and furry, like the inside of the world’s nicest pair of fuzzy slippers. It was warm and solid and it felt stubborn and angry, sad and hurt.
I dug my hands into the fur until I touched skin underneath, then started scratching. It pushed harder against me, but it was like a dog that was leaning against me for more pets and not like it wanted me to go away.
Where my hands touched, the blackness lightened a little.
I scratched harder and harder, until the soft thing started to glow, dim pink.
My heart hurt and I cried and cried. I couldn’t even use the handkerchief Miss Emma gave me, because I didn’t want to stop scratching the Beast.
“Who’s a good girl?” I asked. “YOU are. You are the best girl and I love you.”
As I scratched I remembered my mom being cross at me, impatient and annoyed. I remembered the times that I got upset and the way she would huff out her breath and say, “You just need to be stronger, Lola. You can’t let the world push you around so much. You need thicker skin.”
But then Dad would say, “It’s okay, Lola. You take after me, that’s all.”
I scratched the Beast, and petted it, and said, “You are the softest, you are so soft, and so wonderful. And so strong.”
The Beast shivered and purred.
I said, “Are you a cat?”
But she was not a cat.
“Are you a dog? A bird? A worm? A unicorn? A mermaid? A dragon?”
When I said dragon, the Beast started to glow all over, very brightly. I had to close my eyes.
I opened them again right away, though, because closing them didn’t do any good at all.
In front of me was a long, pink, furry dragon, with a giant head almost as big as my whole body, and claws that dug into the dark gray ground.
This is going to sound STUPID.
I didn’t like it.
It wasn’t what I wanted.
I wanted a cat like Jayla’s, only pink.
My heart was breaking. I felt like I would only fail a dragon like that. I am a pink person, I thought, but I am not a pink dragon person. I don’t have magic like that. I am not that. I am little and small and cute. I don’t want a pink dragon. If I am a pink dragon, then Jayla won’t like me anymore.
Nobody likes me but my mom and dad, and I’m not sure my mom likes me. I think she likes me but doesn’t love me.
That’s why she needs my little sister Sally to exist. So she can have a daughter she likes, instead of just me.
The dragon started to cry, fat tears that were so big they overflowed my hands cupped together.
“Please don’t cry,” I begged. “Please don’t cry!”
My arms couldn’t fit around the dragon.
They had to.
I knew that if I grew big enough to hug the dragon, I wouldn’t be Lola anymore.
I wanted to stay Lola. Really I did.
But I just couldn’t.
The part of me that was Lola fell down and turned awful and gross, a bunch of slithering wet gooshy tube things, and spiderwebs covered in blood, and bones that cracked apart until they were needles.
The needles sewed and sewed until all the rest of me was sewed up with the blackness all around us, and I knew that I would never not be sad ever again.
Happy and sparkly, yes, but also sad, always sad. Because the only way you can know enough things to be a powerful witch, is to be sad.
The world is sad. We love and we love, and we try to protect what we love, and even the things we don’t love, and it all ends anyway.
I don’t know what will happen. But I know that nothing will be the same, and it hurts.
Now I don’t know who I am, except that I am something big enough to wrap around a crying dragon like a big, dark blanket studded with twinkling pink stars, and teeny tiny chimes. I am even bigger than that. I am the person who wraps the blanket around the dragon, and I am the person telling the story about the person who can wrap a sky full of stars around a sad pink dragon, and know that that’s not what I really mean, except it also really, REALLY is.
I made myself all over again, a Lola that was as close as I could remember, but not exactly the same.
Goodbye, old Lola. Hello, new Lola. I am holding your dragon until you can learn to love it the way I do.
When I was done, I left the library. I have part of Miss Emma with me now, not controlling me but with me, seeing through me, talking to me.
I don’t know everything that’s going on now, but I know a bunch.
I am a witch.
I am a strong witch now. I have chosen not to have magic power, but to be magic. I am a place now, with the little girl Lola only a part of who I am.
I have to be careful with the people near me. They are precious as they are. I don’t want to change them. I can’t help but change them. Being near a powerful witch changes people.
Most people don’t want to change, for better OR for worse.
I have to let go of wanting to change people. I have to let go of loving people so much that I want them to be like me.
I walked back to Mr. Warshaw’s class.
Jayla was gone.
Her mom had taken her from class.
And now, after school, I went to Jayla’s house and let myself inside with the key that Mr. Dave gave me a while ago.
Jayla and her mom are both gone.
But Ghost Cat is still here. I am holding him in my lap. He is not purring. He is shivering and making small, scared meows? like questions.
“It will be OK,” I tell him. “It will be OK.”